Remember this about the annual awards doled out in Major League Baseball: Voting is completed before the playoffs begin. No postseason heroics figure into MVP, Cy Young or rookie of the year winners.
Same with manager of the year, which almost always results in the award going to a skipper whose team finished short of a World Series title.
The last manager to take home a World Series ring along with his manager of the year plaque was Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox in 2005. The last National League manager to do so was Jack McKeon of the Florida Marlins in 2003.
This year, strong manager of the year arguments can be made for Dave Roberts of the Dodgers in the National League and Bruce Bochy of the Texas Rangers in the American League. But they are long shots.
Why? Voters traditionally favor managers who take teams forecast as losers to the playoffs. Overachievers are recognized far more often than managers blessed with rosters stuffed with talent. Also, managers of teams with low payrolls are often favored because it’s perceived that they do more with less.
All of which leads to oddities such as Bochy winning the award with the upstart San Diego Padres in 1996 even though they were swept in the NLDS yet never winning again despite leading the San Francisco Giants to World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
Roberts was voted manager of the year in 2016 — his first season — but hasn’t won since despite leading the Dodgers to an unprecedented four 100-win seasons and boasting the highest winning percentage of any manager in MLB history at .630.
He’s on the cusp of a fifth 100-win season, and doing so with a starting rotation decimated by injuries and pocked with rookies, a lineup getting impressive production from aging veterans J.D. Martinez, Jason Heyward and David Peralta, and the front office failed to add a high-impact player at the trade deadline. The Dodgers say their clubhouse culture has never been stronger.
Yet Roberts is routinely taken for granted at best and disparaged at worst. An article in the Athletic a week ago said David Ross of the Chicago Cubs should be NL manager of the year with the following caveat: “David Bell of the Reds, Skip Schumaker of the Marlins and Torey Lovullo of the Diamondbacks had strong seasons and all were given serious consideration.”
Bochy came out of retirement to manage the Rangers, who unexpectedly lead the AL West after going 68-94 in 2022. He should get votes, especially from writers wishing to make up for his repeated snubs with the Giants, but likely will finish behind Brandon Hyde, manager of the storybook AL East champion Baltimore Orioles.
Voting for managers and rookies of the year, Cy Young and MVP is conducted by the Baseball Writers Assn. of America. And again, votes must be cast by Sunday, the last day of the regular season.
Who should win the awards?
Let’s lead off — how appropriate — with the race between two players who have assembled perhaps the greatest seasons ever by leadoff hitters.
The Dodgers’ Mookie Betts has the most RBIs — 105 and counting — of any leadoff man in MLB history while hitting 39 home runs and batting .309 with a .410 on-base percentage and .590 slugging percentage.
The Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr. has hit even better, posting a slash line of .336/.415/.595 while hitting 40 home runs and driving in 101 runs. Oh, and he has 68 stolen bases to Betts’ 13.
Betts has a slightly better bWAR than Acuña — 8.1 to 8.0 — because he is a much better right fielder and has tremendous versatility, grading as a plus second baseman and average shortstop. But Acuña has had a stronger September at the plate, making this a tight race between two players who call to mind the greatest leadoff hitter of all time, Rickey Henderson.
Henderson’s remarkable 25-year career includes a heaping handful that could qualify as his best. His lone MVP award came with the Oakland A’s in 1990 when his slash line was .325/.439/.577 for a monster 1.016 OPS. He led the league with 116 runs and 65 stolen bases while equaling his career high with 28 home runs. He is the all-time stolen base leader with 1,406, but he never drove in more than 74 runs in a season.
The triple-figure RBI totals by Betts and Acuña set them apart, accomplishing something only two leadoff hitters had ever achieved. The Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon drove in 103 runs in 2017 and the Angels’ Darin Erstad drove in 100 in 2000.
Even though he will have missed 27 games because of injuries, the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani is the overwhelming favorite. No one in baseball history has accomplished more from the batter’s box and pitching mound in a single season.
Ohtani still leads the AL in home runs (44), walks (91), on-base percentage (.412) and slugging percentage (.654), and as a testament to his speed and athleticism he has eight triples and 20 stolen bases. In 23 starts, Ohtani is 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA in 132 innings, allowing only 85 hits while striking out 167.
Looking hard for a blemish: Ohtani leads the AL with 12 wild pitches, but rest assured that won’t cost him any MVP votes.
The runner-up should be Corey Seager, the former Dodgers shortstop enjoying a career year with the Rangers: His slash line is .331/.393/.640 and he’s accumulated 33 home runs and 96 RBIs despite missing more than 40 games because of injury.
NL CY YOUNG
Left-hander Blake Snell won the AL Cy Young in 2018 with the Tampa Bay Rays and he should win this year’s NL Cy Young with the San Diego Padres.
Snell’s 6.1 bWAR is a full two wins better than his closest competitor, right-hander Zac Gallen of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Braves’ Spencer Strider leads the NL with 17 wins and 274 strikeouts, but his 3.81 ERA puts him well behind Snell (2.25 ERA), Mets right-hander Kodai Senga, Cubs left-hander Justin Steele (3.00) and Gallen (3.49).
AL CY YOUNG
The Yankees’ Gerrit Cole has finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting six times in 11 seasons. This year he should win it for the first time.
Cole, a former UCLA star, is 14-4 with 217 strikeouts, and leads the league with a .778 winning percentage, 2.75 ERA, 32 starts, 200 innings and a 1.015 WHIP, a splendid season.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Even though he is 30 and spent 11 seasons in the Japanese Pacific League, Senga is a contender for rookie of the year as well as being in the Cy Young conversation. It’s hard to say whether some voters will downgrade him because he’s not a traditional rookie.
Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder Corbin Carroll presents a strong alternative. His numbers as a leadoff hitter aren’t at the level of Acuña and Betts, but they are strong across the board: .288 batting average, 25 home runs, 51 stolen bases, 112 runs scored, 74 RBIs and a league-best nine triples.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Had Walker Buehler’s suggestion that a new award for the top rookie pitcher in each league — he’d call it the Fernando Valenzuela Award — been implemented already, Senga and his AL counterpart Tanner Bibee of the Cleveland Guardians would be the front-runners.
Instead, they likely will finish second or lower in rookie of the year voting. The AL award should go to Orioles third baseman Gunnar Henderson, who has 27 home runs, an AL-leading nine triples, 81 RBIs and 98 runs scored. His 145 games and 603 plate appearances give him a distinct advantage over Rangers All-Star third baseman Josh Jung, who has missed 40 games with a thumb injury, and Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas, whose shoulder injury shortened his season.